UT Health Services dietitian shares tips for a healthier Thanksgiving

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UT Health Services dietitian shares tips for a healthier Thanksgiving

HOUSTON - (Nov. 19, 2012) - Thanksgiving is right around the corner and we may already be preparing our stomachs for the big feast. But do you know how many calories you are potentially consuming? Or how long it would take to burn them off? Shannon Weston, MPH, RD, LD, registered dietitian with UT Health Services, shares tips on how to trim the fat while still enjoying a traditional Thanksgiving meal.

In a typical Thanksgiving meal, Americans will consume more than 1,600 calories; assuming only one serving size of each dish is devoured. Weston notes, “People do not typically eat the standard serving sizes of traditional foods, especially on Thanksgiving. Portion control is difficult to keep in check. A serving of turkey is 3 ounces (about the size of a deck of cards), a serving of stuffing or mashed potatoes is 1/2 cup (about the size of a tennis ball cut in half), and a serving of gravy or cranberry sauce is 1/4 cup (about the size of a golf ball). As a dietitian, the last thing I want to be is a ‘fun police’ when it comes to food and family traditions for a special occasion. In that case, portion control is the best solution!”

To burn off all the calories consumed from a traditional Thanksgiving meal, assuming you stick to single-servings, you would need to jog for about 3 hours or workout on an elliptical machine for 5 hours or more.

This Thanksgiving, try some of Weston’s tips to avoid overeating. Your body will thank you later.

  • Don’t skip meals and snacks the day of Thanksgiving. Get out of the mentality of “saving up” calories for the big meal. The idea is to stay satisfied throughout the day to keep from overindulging. Eat a sensible breakfast with an emphasis on fiber and protein. Depending on what time you eat the main meal, you may want to incorporate a light lunch or a small snack three to four hours after breakfast.
  • Be mindful of appetizers and drinks. Calories add up quickly before the main meal. Enjoy one appetizer and move on. Instead of sugary beverages like apple cider opt for water or club soda with a splash of lime or cranberry juice. Alcohol is loaded with calories, can increase appetite in the short term and reduce inhibitions to eat mindfully. If you drink alcohol, enjoy one drink throughout the night and sip on water, tea or coffee the rest of the evening.
  • Serve up one plate and wait. Make one plate of food with all of your favorite dishes, eat slowly and pause before having more. It takes 20 minutes for the stomach to send a message to the brain that it is satisfied. When eating too fast this signal is lost and you will end up eating more than you need. Engage in conversation and enjoy the company before going back for seconds.
  • Walk and talk. Round up family or friends for a leisurely walk either before or after dinner.

The nutritional integrity of any traditional Thanksgiving dish can be compromised with the addition of fat, sugar and sodium. Here are some simple ideas and tips from Weston for creating healthier dishes this year.   

Turkey: Forgo the skin to reduce calories and saturated fat.

Stuffing: Incorporate more fruits and vegetables into your stuffing recipe. Think mushrooms, onions, shallots, bell peppers and chopped apples or pears. Try whole wheat bread and incorporate whole grains such as barley and quinoa.

Gravy: Use fat-free turkey broth instead of the caloric turkey runoff. Use traditional gravy sparingly.

Mashed potatoes: To make slim mashed potatoes, first include the potato skin in the mash to increase the fiber of the dish. To increase volume and reduce calories, try mixing half mashed potatoes with steamed cauliflower. Replace whole milk with skim, 1 percent or low-fat buttermilk. If you like to add butter, try whipped butter instead of stick butter. You can also skip the mashing altogether and use a low-calorie butter spray to dress boiled potatoes. Try fresh herbs and spices such as garlic or chives to enhance flavor without added calories or sodium.

Green Bean Casserole: Steam your (fresh or frozen) green beans instead of sautéing them in oil. Replace cream of mushroom soup with sautéed mushrooms, onions and shallots. Top with toasted slivered almonds instead of fried onions.

Rolls: Replace a white roll or corn bread with whole wheat rolls.  

Cranberry Sauce: The canned variety is packed with sugar. Making a homemade version with real cranberries can save calories. Think of cranberry sauce as a dessert and enjoy a small amount after enjoying the other dishes.

Candied Yams: Replace maple syrup and marshmallows in this traditional dish with a sprinkle of brown sugar and chopped pecans or replace the candied yams with baked sweet-potatoes. This dish can also be considered in the dessert category.

Hot Chocolate: Save 100 calories per cup and 11g of sugar by replacing whole milk with un-sweetened almond or soy milk.

Pumpkin Pie: If you love the pie filling just skip the crust to save up to 100 calories. If you are making pie, replace traditional pie crust with cinnamon graham crackers. Replace ice cream with frozen yogurt. Another way to save calories is to make your own pumpkin pudding. For one serving of pumpkin pudding add 1/2 cup of canned pumpkin to 6 oz. of non-fat vanilla yogurt. Mix well and top with a dash of spices such as cinnamon, pumpkin spice or nutmeg. Serve with light whipped cream for an additional “pie” feel.

Holiday meals can be a time to drool over family favorite dishes that you may only get treated to once a year. “I understand that some people look forward to and love their Thanksgiving dishes and don’t want to mess with their recipes. I encourage people to enjoy the food and the day. It’s all about being thankful and ultimately the importance of family and loved ones far outweighs the importance of what is on your plate,” said Weston.

Shannon Weston, MPH, RD, LD, is a registered dietitian with UT Health Services. She specializes in nutrition counseling for weight loss/weight maintenance, meal planning and preparation, diabetes education and sports nutrition. For more information or to make an appointment, call 713-500-3267.

Written by Melanie Rosenberg, communications assistant in the Office of Advancement at UTHealth

Meredith Raine
Media Hotline: 713-500-3030